Like his friend and frequent legislative partner in the US Senate, Ted Kennedy, George Miller made himself an essential Democrat in the House of Representatives on the issues that mattered most to his party’s historic base. For decades, as a senior member of California’s influential House delegation, Miller has led the fight for living wages, strong unions, public education, national healthcare, environmental protection, civil liberties and civil rights.
A quarter century ago he helped a newly elected congresswoman from a neighboring district, Nancy Pelosi, learn the intricacies of the Capitol, and he remained her steadiest ally as she rose to become the Speaker of the House. And Pelosi was not alone. The congressman continues to serve as a definitional figure on the issues of consequence for progressives, and as a mentor to the members of House who identify as their champions.
But Miller says he “was never in awe of the ‘indispensable man’ theory.”
So, at the end of his current term, the 68-year-old congressman will end his forty-year tenure in a House of Representatives that he entered as a 29-year-old “Watergate Baby”—part of the remarkable class of young, liberal Democrats who were elected after Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974 and made the ideals of the antiwar, civil rights and political reform movements a part of the governing process in the 1970s and beyond.
Ever the fighter, Miller did not merely look backward in his retirement announcement.
“I’m proud of what I have been able to accomplish on behalf of children, working people and the environment, in my district and for our country, especially passage of national health care reform,” he declared. "Now, I look forward to one last year in Congress fighting the good fight and then working in new venues on the issues that have inspired me.”
At the top of the list for the coming year is the fight for a meaningful increase in the minimum wage, an issue where Miller staked out the high ground when too many others were content with small steps. It was Miller who proposed—with another retiring Democrat, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin—to break the double-digit barrier and raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. Showing the sophistication he has developed as the senior Democrat on the powerful House Committee on Education and Labor, Miller’s bill includes provisions to index future increases to keep up with inflation, and to expand protections for workers who rely on tips. In advocating for the legislation, the congressman has embraced the struggles of striking fast-food workers and others who argue that there is something wrong with an economic arrangement where Americans who work a 40-hour week are still stuck in poverty.